The record catalogue for Bantock has been transformed
out of all recognition from the position in 1983 (the dawn of the CD).
At that time you were restricted to one side of a Lyrita vinyl, a Gough
and Davey LP of a (pretty accomplished) school orchestra playing the
Hebridean and another on which the Sapphic Poem appeared.
If you were very adventurous you , might have tracked down the abysmal
sounding US pirate LP (Aries) of the Pagan as played by the 'Versailles
SO/Claude Dupré' (a pseudonym for a BBC orchestra and conductor).
There is still a very long way to go but now there
are with five Hyperions, two Duttons (and a third on the way) as well
as odd issues from other labels including a long deleted desirable coupling
(Intaglio INCD704-1) of radio broadcasts of the Pagan and Hebridean
symphonies - snap up the latter if you see it.
This latest Hyperion issue is in the same regal tradition
as the other issues in the series. There is no compromise in any compartment
of this project.
From the "Star Trek meets Beethoven Ninth"
opening, Processional tracks its Tchaikovskian way with confident assertion.
It is one of those intense and breast-beating works with a stormy hint
of Finlandia and Kullervo about its pages. Listen to the passage at
3.40 and those upward sweeping woodwind slashes and also at 3.54 to
the echoing dialogue of string and woodwind. These moments are pure
Sibelius. At 4.37 we hear the Tchaikovsky of Onegin.
The earliest of the works in this collection, Processional is based
on Robert Southey's piece of fake orientalism The Curse of Kehama. It
was to have been the first of twenty-four tone poems (ah! the confident
ambition of youth) but apart from Jaga-Naut this is probably all that
viably survives. It is in works such as Thalaba and this that we see
the cultural stream also traceable in the works of Arthur Farwell (The
Gods of the Mountains after Dunsany), the brilliant Belgian Rimsky-epigone
Adolphe Biarent (Contes d'Orient on Cyprès CYP7605), Griffes'
Pleasure Dome, Freitas Branco's Vathek, and, in its imaginative use
of colour and melody, the much later Benjamin Dale tone poem The Flowing
Tide (studio recorded by the BBC and still awaiting broadcast).
Caristiona is scored with fastidious
delicacy for flute, horn, harp and oboe and solos abound. Classic fm
should promptly take this up - it is such a delightful piece. The music
is quasi-regretful, a tracery of romance enlivened by small peaks of
determination. It is almost as fragile as the Four Chinese Landscapes.
Thalaba was the first of six tone poems
written at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century. Bantock
revised them ten years later. They are each (as far as we know them)
heavily indebted to Tchaikovsky in character and instrumental twist.
The inclination in this Russian direction and away from Brahms was fostered
by Frederick Corder presiding at the Royal Academy. Exactly like Joseph
Holbrooke, another product of the Academy, Bantock peppered his scores
with signposts from the poem or drama that prompted the work. Lewis
Foreman gives us the signposts and the plot though rather like Tchaikovsky's
Romeo and Juliet and Francesca the plot is almost irrelevant
to musical enjoyment. Thalaba grows on you. It makes little effect
on the listener first time around but try again and each time it grows.
Put this work in the same category as Tchaikovsky's lesser tone poems
like Hamlet, The Storm and Voyevode - more Hamlet
that Voyevode but not as incandescent as Francesca or
as memorable as Romeo. Think of it in similar terms to the Novak's
Godiva (Chandos) and Fibich's and Dvorak's Erben-themed melodramas
and tone poems. It is a very good work with a dark proclivity taken
from Dvorak's New World (try the opening) and some real witchery
along the way. It is rather more inspired and lapel-tugging than the
rhapsodic wanderings of Fifine and The Witch of Atlas.
Handley plays this as if he were directing Francesca or Romeo.
We have already heard a selection from the post-Omar
Song of Songs on Dutton's historical Bantock anthology.
It is, self-evidently, a major work. The 11.40 prelude to this two and
a half hour work dates from 1912 and the rest of it was not done and
dusted until 7 October 1926. It is laid out for six solo voices, chorus
and orchestra. Bantock follows the biblical story concentrating predictably
enough on the exotic/erotic text without straining at the Christian
exegesis that has the sensuous tale as a metaphor for the passion of
God's people for His church. The music is sultry but lacks the etched
memorability of the Omar music. Speaking of which the pause between
the end of this track and the start of the Omar prelude is inadequate.
This should, if possible, be corrected for the Helios reissue in 2010.
The Omar Prelude and Camel Caravan run
together for circa 18 minutes but, knowing the almost complete work
(two and three quarter hours of it) from the Del Mar BBC Radio
3 revival of 1979, the Handley RPO version is on a low flame. This simmers
rather than blazes. Del Mar made more of it. You will not feel the loss
if you do not know the BBC tape. That tape, by the way, is still clamantly
in search of a record company with means to meet the cost of the artist
royalties and licence fees. The distant stertorous brass fanfares of
The Caravan remind us of the dawn fanfares from Delius's music
for Hassan. I wonder which anonymous choir sings in the Caravan
As is usual the listening experience gains savour through
Lewis Foreman's liner notes. The whole project would have been nothing
without Foreman's guiding hand and the work of Rodney Stephen Newton
(a regular contractor in the musical reanimation market) in preparing
the full score of Thalaba.
What of the next volume? Will there be one? If there
is I have high hopes of one that includes The Four Chinese Landscapes
(1936 - superbly atmospheric music in a Sibelian vein), Aphrodite
in Cyprus (1939), The Land of the Gael (1915), Coronach
(1918), From the Far West (1912), Scenes From the Scottish
Highlands (1913), Overture to a Greek Tragedy (1911 - dedicated
to Sibelius - Sibelius had dedicated his Third Symphony to Bantock -
an overture memorably recorded on Lyrita LP) and Prelude to Euripides'
Bacchae (1945). I hope that Hyperion will make some brave choices
as they now have a captive Bantock audience ready to snap up the next
instalment whatever it may be. The most valiant of choices would be
to record Omar. It desperately needs to be done and wisdom would suggest
that the digital tape of the 1979 Del Mar broadcast should be secured.
That performance seemed close to perfection in every department. Bantock's
music blossoms in young and sensitive hands. There is no room for insensitive
wobbling vibrato or dynamic monotony.
Hyperion should take a deep bow for this latest Bantock
salvo which is remarkably strong meat especially in the case of Thalaba
BANTOCK ON HYPERION
Celtic Symphony, Hebridean Symphony, Witch of Atlas,
Sea Reivers CDA66450
Cyprian Goddess, Dante and Beatrice, Helena Variations
Pagan Symphony, Fifine at the Fair, Cuchulan's Lament,
Kishmul's Galley CDA66630
Sappho Prelude and nine fragments; Sapphic Poem CDA66899
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